Peter Burling looms as sailing's next star

OLYMPIC ACTION: 49er sailors Peter Burling, left and Blair Tuke at the 2012 Olympics.
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OLYMPIC ACTION: 49er sailors Peter Burling, left and Blair Tuke at the 2012 Olympics.

Forget the claret - Peter Burling might well have water running through his veins.

After all, this is a young man who was a world champion at the age of 15, New Zealand's youngest Olympic sailor at the age of 17, and, at 21, is the second youngest Kiwi to win an Olympic sailing medal, having secured silver in the 49er class with crew Blair Tuke in Weymouth this week.

The pair just had to show up for the medal race overnight (NZ time), before receiving their medals at a ceremony this morning.

When Burling is not competing in the high-octane Olympic class or training in Auckland with Tuke, he is sailing moths back home in Tauranga, or simply relaxing with a fishing rod in hand.

Of course, there's a common theme to all of the above - water.

"I've been brought up around water my whole life," he explains.

"When I was about 8, my dad [Richard, a sailing coach in Tauranga] got my brother a boat.

"Then we ended up getting a few boats and got down to the local yacht club, and one thing led to another. I got some good results and we were away."

He sailed his first nationals, in the Optimist class, at 11, finishing second. He won the following year, before moving into the 420 with Carl Evans where he had immediate success, becoming a world champion at the age of 15, and a double world champion at 16.

A year later, he was sailing at the Beijing Olympic Games, in the 470 class with Evans. They finished a credible 11th and the decision to send him has reaped rewards now.

"It was pretty eye-opening. The whole campaign was a bit rushed and we didn't put it all together at the regatta, but I learned a lot from that," says Burling, who hooked up with Tuke and moved into the 49er skiff after Beijing.

"You obviously learn a lot from every event you do, but the Olympics are certainly special. They only happen every four years and they are what everyone's trying to aim at, so it was nice to have been there before and seen how it all works.

"This time, we've had the four-year cycle and it's a little different, because we jumped into a new boat, which is quite different to race than other boats.

"Most of my youth boats through to the 470 were all pretty similar, but the 49er is a different beast and it took a while to get used to sailing it. We've done all right, though."

That's a classic understatement from Burling, a man of few words.

Burling and Tuke finished second at the past two world championships, beaten both times by their close training partners and the 2012 Olympic gold medallists from Australia, Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen.

Now, they are Olympic medallists, New Zealand's first in a boat since 1992.

They trained closely with the Aussies during the past four years, sharing information and raising each other's game to a level where they were streets ahead of the rest of the world.

Outteridge, regarded as one of the best Olympic class sailors in the world, has huge respect for Burling, tipping a bright future.

So too are other yachting insiders. Some say he is New Zealand sailing's next big thing, pointing to a hard-nosed attitude and desire to succeed.

It is appropriate, then, that Burling lists Russell Coutts as someone he has always looked up to, "because he's been so dominant".

As for what's next, he will take a bit of time off and reassess. His father, Richard, reckons Burling and Tuke's weight might not suit the 49er in Rio's lighter winds.

Fairfax Media